By Matthew Ellison
A friend of mine that served with me as an intern many years ago recently asked me, “Are you finding churches less active in missions today because of COVID, civil unrest, and ethnic tensions? Are they focusing more now on staying afloat and on domestic needs?”
I answered, “If missions mattered to churches before 2020, it still matters now. If missions was just a side interest, its likely been further marginalized. When the pressures and challenges of life squeeze us, what’s inside tends to come out.” Proverbs 4:23 tells us that out of the heart flow the issues of life. 2020, for the most part, surfaced what was already on the inside.
So, will churches prioritize missions in 2021? To state the obvious, some will, and some will not. This year, the work of mission’s mobilization will in many ways be similar to what it was in 2020 and every year before.
Some Churches Will
Churches with a passion to see Jesus known and adored among all peoples have not had a change of heart because of recent and current crises. Of course, churches have had to make significant adjustments, but the nature of churches filled with holy ambition to see the nations glorify God for His mercy has not changed. (Romans 15:20) By the way, the English word passion has its roots in the Latin word passio, which simply means suffering. In 2020, Sixteen:Fifteen was honored and humbled to walk alongside many churches, mostly virtually, that did not shrink back from the church’s work of making disciples of all nations despite massive challenges. Their steadfast and sacrificial commitment, no matter the obstacles, have inspired me to press on and not to lose heart. Jesus is more precious in my sight because of their devotion to see Him praised and prized the world over.
In 2021, I look forward to working with and being encouraged by many churches that will make missions a priority no matter what the year brings.
Some Churches Will Not
Churches that have been passive about proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to all nations, tribes, and tongues may likely remain indifferent about missions. For these churches too, what is inside makes its way to the outside during turbulent times. And you guessed it, the English word passive, is a derivative of the Latin word passio, except it means an unwillingness to suffer. When we are passive, we accept or allow what happens without active resistance. In the context of missions, it means sitting by idly as thousands of unreached people groups, numbering billions of souls, remain in spiritual darkness and in the shadow of death.
The reason I say churches that have been passive about missions may likely remain passive and not will remain passive is that there is hope for change. But this change will not happen without a spiritual quickening, a spiritual awakening. It has been said that just as the Spirit of God converts unbelievers to Christ, believers must be converted to missions. This is precisely why Bible-saturated, Spirit-led missions education, exhortation, and teaching are such an essential part of mobilizing God’s people. As we often say, knowing comes before doing and it shapes and informs doing.
In 2021, I will continue to cast a gospel-centered vision to churches everywhere, beckoning them to become central players and full partners in God’s mandate to reach all nations. Some may be moved by this vision; passivity may become passion … some will not.
How Sixteen:Fifteen is Approaching 2021
In light of knowing that some churches will prioritize missions and some will not, this is how we have decided to face the year in front of us:
We are going to regularly remember that God’s plan to populate heaven with worshipers from all nations, tribes, and tongues cannot be thwarted.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”(Revelation 7:9–10, ESV)
It has been wisely said, when it comes to missions, churches have one of two options: They can join the Father in the family business of making disciples of all nations…they can be part of the imminent completion of history’s greatest movement or they can miss out.
We are going to reframe our mission’s mobilization message. For too long, many missionary appeals have sounded like a recruitment project for God’s waning labor force. But that is no Biblical mobilization. God does not need our help, we need His. Biblical mission’s mobilization is a prophetic summons, a prophetic invitation to join God in His epic and unstoppable redemption story (see previous point). A.W. Tozer’s words nail it, “We commonly represent God as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world; but, as said the Lady Julian, “I saw truly that God doeth all-thing, be it never so little.” The God who worketh all things surely needs no help and no helpers. Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God.”
We are going to rouse our spirits to take hold of God. Isaiah gives what Samuel M. Zwemer called an incomparable definition of prayer:
There is no one who calls upon Your name; who rouses himself to take hold of You.(Isaiah 64:7)
In the midst of desperate times, the prophet, unwilling to accept the status quo, stirs his spirit to seize hold of God, and says, “I will not let go until my prayer is answered.” Is this not the kind of praying that opens the heavens?
Oh, that You would burst forth from the skies and come down! How the mountains would quake in Your presence! The consuming fire of Your glory would burn down the forests and boil the oceans dry. The nations would tremble before You; then Your enemies would learn the reason for Your fame! So it was before when You came down, for You did awesome things beyond our highest expectations, and how the mountains quaked!(Isaiah 64:1–3)
John Piper has said, “A new missions movement will not begin with a new focus on the world but with a new vision of God and then the world.” If the Spirit must convert believers to missions, we must pray for a visitation from on High. Only an invasion from heaven can turn passive, powerless churches into passionate churches. And it is God’s presence that will keep the mission’s flame blazing white-hot in churches already engaged in His global purpose.
What Will Mobilization Look Like In 2021?
Well, it will be difficult, it has always been difficult, but it also holds incredible promise, namely because Jesus Christ Himself upholds the hope of the Great Commission’s fulfillment. Therefore, as mobilizers, we must not lose heart no matter what happens. Perhaps God will be merciful to us and we will see some immediate fruit from the labor of our hands, but I suspect that most of it will be revealed to us in eternity.
Only God knows exactly what 2021 holds but we do know, with absolute certainty that His mission’s mandate cannot and will not abort. It cannot fail. Therefore, at Sixteen:Fifteen we are going to grip tightly to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:57-58, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” and we are going to pray intently, rousing our spirits, asking our great God to rend the heavens, to come down and visit us with the fire of His presence … how the mountains would quake!
This article is submitted by Matthew Ellison of Sixteen:Fifteen. Sixteen:Fifteen is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.